Coronavirus cases have surged in China since the country relaxed its draconian “zero-COVID” strategy last month, but officials there are likely undercounting the extent of the outbreak, a World Health Organization official said on Wednesday.
“We believe the current numbers being published from China underrepresent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, particularly in terms of death,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies director, told reporters in Geneva. “We still do not have complete data.”
China has been reporting just a handful of deaths from COVID-19 on a daily basis, bringing the total to 5,258 since the pandemic began.
Many international health officials believe that the true numbers are much higher, with UK-based health data firm Airfinity predicting last week that about 9,000 Chinese citizens are likely dying from COVID-19 each day.
Hospitals and morgues are also reportedly overwhelmed in China. Graphic videos emerged on social media this week of family members cremating relatives’ bodies in the streets.
The surge has prompted several countries, including the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, and South Korea, to place restrictions on Chinese travelers.
European Union officials recommended on Wednesday that Chinese passengers should have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to any of the bloc’s 27 nations.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning lashed out at the restrictions this week saying that they are “unacceptable” and lack “scientific basis.”
Reuters contributed to this report.